The purpose of care farming is to promote mental and physical health by giving people the opportunity to spend time working on the land.
Care farms use the whole or part of a farm, provide health, social or educational care services for one or a range of vulnerable groups of people and provide a supervised, structured programme of farming-related activities. These farming-related activities include animal husbandry, crop and vegetable production and woodland management.
Let's take the example of Pathways Care Farm which was started by Christians in Lowestoft.
They acquired a derelict 13 acre farm in autumn 2014 and with over 5000 hours of volunteer effort opened for business in April 2016. Land was cleared, rubble removed, buildings restored, drainage improved, a bridge built over a stream, polytunnel installed, orchard planted and animal enclosures completed. Hay was harvested and animals acquired.
All the while interest and involvement from businesses, local authorities, colleges was increasing including the provision of teams to help. Obviously a lot of effort has been required which was specific to the Pathways' context - this may be different with other sites or existing farms. However reading through the history of this project gives a great sense of a community coming together around a vision to help vulnerable people and finding the effort so rewarding.
No matter what farm experiences people have or haven’t had, all are welcome to share in guided activities, hard physical work, team work, problem solving and confidence building. People can also sit and contemplate, enjoying the natural habitat and walkways. Older people who may be isolated or lonely can enjoy companionship while participating in appropriate activities on and about the farm.
Co-workers may be vulnerable, have special needs, be recovering from a mental health illness or be in need of some ‘time-out’ – they all come from a variety of backgrounds and perhaps need some therapy, to learn a new skill, be part of their day care or a mixture - all mainly in the great outdoors.
And does it make a difference?
“The change in C has been remarkable. From a withdrawn, remote individual, he has transformed into a smiling, bright-eyed interactive part of the family willing to instigate conversation which, before coming to Pathways, didn’t happen. His confidence has grown massively and he has come out of his shell. Pathways has been a massive part in this and I cannot thank the team enough.”
“I tried to think of what to write but I could only come up with three words: ‘Saved my life’.” (M)
"I would like thank you all at the care farm. It is the first time I have seen J so very happy in himself and with the people around him since he left the sea three years ago. He has been very 'in himself' at times and I’m very grateful what you all do for him.” (Wife of ex fishing skipper)
The farm can be seen as an oasis of calm amidst the hustle and bustle of busy, troubled contemporary life. Spending a day, or more, a week at Pathways can have an amazing effect on people’s well-being.
Since April 2016, the same level of volunteering has continued and now totals over 15,000 hours. This is made up of regular work (supporting people) Monday-Friday plus a workparty one Saturday each month where they work on the infrastructure. Facilities have been improved and extra areas have been opened up e.g. a sensory garden.
Here is a 9 min video about the farm made by BBC Radio Suffolk:
Geoff Stevens, the chair of Pathways Care Farm, now has a great deal of experience of such a project and a vision to see it replicated. If this connects with you, especially if you already have a farm or land, then I'm sure he will be open to discussion. Contact him via the Pathways Care Farm website.
There are many care farms around the UK. Care Farming UK promote and support these. Find a care farm near you on their website. A similar model is Rural Care who also work with North Hertfordshire College to provide accredited training for their students with learning disabilities on the farm. Church Farm Ardingly is an example and this is open to the public as well.
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